THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 23, 2022 at 15:55 JST
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani (17) stands on the mound during the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Anaheim, Calif., June 22, 2022. (AP Photo)
ANAHEIM, Calif.--Shohei Ohtani adheres to strict routine in nearly every aspect of his life. When his latest mound start was delayed 12 minutes by a pregame ceremony honoring the Angels’ 2002 World Series champions, his meticulous preparation took a hit before he even threw a pitch.
A slightly bumpy beginning still led to a second straight incredible night for the two-way superstar.
Ohtani struck out a career-high 13 over eight dominant innings of two-hit ball, and the AL MVP also reached base three times in Los Angeles’ 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday.
After giving up two singles to start that delayed first inning, Ohtani (6-4) retired 16 straight Royals and 23 of the final 24 batters he faced. While matching the longest start of his major league career, he allowed just one baserunner over his final seven innings--on a walk that was quickly erased by a double play.
“I think the biggest thing was putting up that zero in the first inning after giving up those first two hits,” Ohtani said through his translator. “I was able to do that, and it set the tone for the game. I wanted to go as long as I could, but I wasn’t really thinking about the pitch count early in the game.”
With the backdrop of a rare Southern California lightning storm illuminating the sky far beyond center field at the Big A, Ohtani also had a single and two walks at the plate in his latest electrifying two-way performance.
One night after Ohtani hit two three-run homers and drove in a career-high eight runs in an extra-inning loss, he set a new personal best for strikeouts by fanning Emmanuel Rivera on his 108th and final pitch.
“He just put us on his back,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “I thought about taking him out going into the eighth, and he was adamant: ‘No. This is mine. I’m staying.’ ... What a day. What a performance by him.”
David MacKinnon got his first major league hit with an RBI single in the seventh for the Angels, who avoided a series sweep with their fourth victory in six games overall. Luis Rengifo had an RBI double in the seventh before scoring on that single to right by MacKinnon, who got his first career RBI two innings earlier with a sacrifice fly.
After scoring 18 runs in the previous two games at Angel Stadium, the Royals were shut out for the second time in four days and the 10th time this season. Kansas City still has won five of seven.
“That was a display,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s a very unique repertoire of pitches. I don’t think you’re going to find as many guys with as many weapons as what we saw today. He was throwing three different sliders, plus a cutter and a curve. When the split started going, that’s when the strikeouts really started to happen, and he’s got 100 (mph) in the tank that he hardly ever showed. ... It’s going to be a tough day at the plate.”
Ohtani is unbeatable on the mound lately, allowing just one run in his last 20 innings over three starts. In his most recent home start two weeks ago, he pitched seven innings of one-run ball and also homered in a victory that snapped the Angels’ franchise-record 14-game skid.
Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi singled in the Royals’ first two at-bats against Ohtani, but he subsequently set down every batter he faced until Merrifield drew a one-out walk in the sixth — and Benintendi quickly grounded into a double play.
Ohtani’s fastball topped 99 mph twice in the second half of his start while he baffled Kansas City, getting a whopping 34 combined strikes on swing-and-misses or called strikes.
Daniel Lynch (3-7) wasn’t as effective for the Royals early on, but the left-hander resourcefully shut down the Angels until they loaded the bases in the fifth on two walks and an infield single. Lynch, who left after MacKinnon’s sacrifice fly, gave up three hits and five walks on a career-high 104 pitches.
Mike Trout got a rest day for the Angels, leaving their struggling lineup decidedly lacking punch. But MacKinnon came through as the team’s improbable cleanup hitter, getting first major league hit after getting called up last weekend for his MLB debut.
MacKinnon was pleased by his breakthrough swings, but other aspects of the game also thrilled him.
“I got to play the field behind Shohei and see how good he is,” MacKinnon said. “It’s crazy being here.”
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